Entrepreneur-in-Chief: The New Model City

4 01 2013

Jamelle Bouie, a moderate liberal writer for The American Prospect, tweeted this:

around the same time that Mick Dumke, a left-leaning Chicago Reader reporter, wrote this:
Read the rest of this entry »





Life in the Neoliberal City: Post-Partisanship Wins!

29 06 2012

America’s big cities (and major metropolitan areas) are the laboratories of policy, if states are the laboratories of democracy. In metro areas and cities, universities, professional organizations, and trade associations and economic alliances are capable of exerting outsize influence and try to implement to approaches to social and economic problems that, again, are more easily identified and addressed because of high population concentrations in relatively small geographic areas.

Tell the nation! Draw near all ye with David Brooks columns bookmarked for other than hate reading purposes: Chicago and America’s big cities have achieved post-partisanship! The very post-partisanship our President talked about on the campaign trail. As the post-partisanship machine takes firmer hold of our cities, it will move upward, capillary-attraction speed, to the states, until finally–finally!–we achieve the post-partisanship paradise pundits prattle on and on about.

What does that post-partisanship look like? Let Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky tell you:

Welcome to part two in our ongoing series on the mayor’s millionaire’s club, in which we pore over the mayor’s daily appointment schedule with the aim of shedding light on how the mayor prioritizes his time–and his far-reaching connections…

[O]nce again, we found that his days were loaded with rich guys, campaign donors, powerful contractors, union busters, charter-school supporters, City Hall insiders, aldermanic brownnosers, and other favor seekers.

But during these three months Emanuel found time for another type of visitor: major funders of conservative attacks on President Obama. As such, the mayor’s calendar offers a glimpse of what passes for bipartisanship in Chicago–and shows the ways in which wealth and access, at least as much as party identity or ideology, have come to command the attention of politicians, leaving everyday people out of the conversation.

Meanwhile…

As a whole, appointments with neighborhood groups or community leaders were largely missing from the mayor’s schedule. [Amisha] Patel says her group’s requests for a meeting with the mayor have been ignored. She notes that Emanuel continues to find job subsidies for profitable corporations and developers at the same time he’s cutting library hours, neighborhood services, and public-sector positions. “Let’s talk about job creation but let’s do it in a full way.”

In fact, like many up-and-coming Republican stars, the mayor has shown a willingness–some would say an eagerness–to take on organized labor, especially the teachers union. He’s also an avowed supporter of charter schools, paying them about as many visits, and arguably more attention, as he does regular public schools.

Post-partisanship means staying away from the organized (and thus cantankerous) disaffected and powerless, and hew to the already powerful and wealthy who must know what’s best.

If this were just a Chicago phenomenon, it may be dismissed as yet another quirk of Chicago’s sui generis politics.

It’s not though! Phew, right? Post-partisanship lives to fight another day! In the form of…
Read the rest of this entry »





A Long Time Comin’: Chicago Teachers Strike Authorization Vote Begins Today

6 06 2012

cross-posted from Gapers Block

Beginning today, over 20,000 Chicago teachers will vote on whether or not to authorize their bargaining committee to call for a strike should negotiations with the Board of Education over new contract terms fail. For authorization, 75% of non-retiree union members would need to approve. This high threshold is the result of legislation passed last year. As state public employees, teachers’ collective bargaining rights and terms are governed by state, rather than federal, law.

The legislation in question, known as SB7, was passed after intense and stealth lobbying efforts by Stand for Children, a well-funded non-profit that operates at the state level to encourage entrepreneurial changes to public education that incrementally privatize school systems. Stand for Children co-founder Jonah Edelman famously bragged at a conference that they used access to important and influential political figures like Rahm Emanuel and Michael Madigan, and insiders like Jo Anderson to tighten restrictions on the Chicago Teachers Union. Part of the strategy was to take away one of the union’s more potent tools, the strike threat. Unable to take away the right to a work stoppage, Stand settled for a 75% approval threshold.

Now, it is looking like Stand’s strategy might backfire, if teachers ultimately vote to authorize a strike. After all, the question teachers will vote on is whether to authorize a strike, not whether to go on strike. Arguably, winning an authorization vote by 50%+1 would not be a real show of strength. A significant portion of teachers would have expressed their opposition to a strike, and maintaining the strike, once called, would be exceedingly difficult. The organizational capacity teachers build by being forced to get over 75% means a resilient strike, should things come to that, and a battle-tempered organization prepared to push hard during negotiations.

Besides the mechanics of it, there are the underlying social conditions that are bringing this to a head.
Read the rest of this entry »





Transparency and Honest Counsel in the Mayor’s Office

14 02 2012

Mr. Mayor, why won’t you tell this woman what your staff was saying about her dead grandchild?

That’s the devastating question Chicago Tribune reporter David Kidwell leaves unasked at the end of his forceful article on the Mayor’s refusal to release his staff’s internal communications regarding the city’s plan to build a network of red-light cameras across the city. I’m not giving a blockquote to encourage you to read the article. Go ahead, then come back. Or, open it in a new tab and switch back and–you know what, you know what you’re doing.

The full transcript of Kidwell’s contentious interview with the Mayor, released by the Tribune as a companion piece to the article, is a winding, gruff dialog between approaches to transparency, accountability, and even democracy. At times frankly insulting (“I mean this insulting so get it right”) and at times sounding like legal wrangling in a courtroom (“You said there is a disconnect. That’s a conclusion. How do you know there’s a disconnect?”), Kidwell and Emanuel argue about just what transparency means and just how voters are supposed to hold their elected leaders accountable.

Throughout the interview, the Mayor is frustrated that the Tribune seems to have decided what “transparency” means–e.g., full access to internal administration decisionmaking–and passes judgment on his commitment to his transparency pledge based on their interpretation. The Mayor repeatedly chides the Tribune for ignoring the will of the voters on the matter–diminishing the Tribune’s concerns as out of step with the type of transparency people want. This is, at first glance, the “voters don’t care about process, just results” philosophy.

But that’s not all it is, and–I can’t believe I’m writing this–I have to side, with some reservations, with the Mayor.

Read the rest of this entry »





Mayor Emanuel’s First Budget Passes Unanimously

16 11 2011

The City Council voted today to pass Mayor Emanuel’s budget unanimously, 50-0. Chicago News Coop reporters Hunter Clauss and Dan Mihalopoulos described Aldermen’s comments as “near worshipful” though not without acknowledging the necessary pain that will come with cuts to front-line workers, library and mental services, and elsewhere.

The budget affects deep cuts, particularly around staffing, to close the $600+ million budget deficit the city faced. The budget came in at $6.3 billion. Aldermen lauded the Mayor for being inclusive in the planning process. While under Mayor Daley unanimous budget votes were often used as evidence that the Council was a mere “rubber stamp” for the Mayor’s prerogative, a unanimity does not necessarily entail that. Aldermen seemed to feel like they got their words in during the preparation process, which is arguably much more important than voting against the final budget. Tracking how the budget has changed from its initial form to today would be more instructive; unfortunately that process is not particularly transparent, or at least self-evident.

AFSCME Council 31, which represents thousands of city workers, released a statement upon passage of the budget bemoaning the deep cuts to basic and needed social services:

Read the rest of this entry »





How & Why a Democratic President Privatized Our School System

3 11 2011

Barack Obama is presiding over the beginning of a process that will inexorably result in the privatization of our school system. That doesn’t mean of course that all of our schools will be owned by big corporations; rather it means that within the next five to ten years, our largest school systems will be enmeshed with the private sector, and the regulatory framework that encourages same will be defended vociferously by a new and fierce network of rent seekers. Within a generation, “public schools” will be public only in the sense that they will rely on primarily on government money–similar in that way to the defense industry.

This is bad. Despite the neoliberal fascination with en-marketing everything to appease the Market Unicorn, competition and market forces will not “fix” education (which, coincidentally, is only broken in those places where poverty is high). It will however do these things:

(1) Inherent Decline in Quality. In order to provide the market signals necessary for competition to operate, it will reduce education to quantifiable superficialities (i.e., “high stakes testing”), undermining critical thinking and creativity, particularly in poorer communities.

(a) Commodification of Curricula It will thus give rise to a huge, and by necessity centralized, curricula development industry with a business model that incorporate rent-seeking by necessity.

(b) Institutionalizing Clout and Corruption as Market Advantage.It will encourage lobbying and market-exclusion behavior from the politically well-connected who can use political influence to design standards that benefit existing school-systems.

Read the rest of this entry »





The Collapse: Chicago In a Neoliberal World

7 03 2011

Ed Burke has been encircled. Like the last noble loyal to Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, he must look at a map of the realm and despair. Where once he was among the most important men in a vast empire, the mere mention of its legions enough to induce action or, even better, forbearance, now all his compatriots have seceded, have declared their various independence, shifted their loyalties. The Empire, like the Machine and its successor, had always been a precarious balance of power centers, provincial warlords, regional alliances, and assimilated kingdoms. One look at the election returns, and its obvious: the ramshackle political establishment has been subsumed.

The precinct-level electoral map is a grim sight for a man like Ed Burke. Not because he once had some iron-fisted authority over the whole city; more like watching the team break up. Maybe another analogy is in order; I’ll indulge myself, that’s kind of my thing. He’s been playing on the Harlem Globetrotters, gleefully beating the Washington Generals (no pun intended; take a minute with that) but now he’s got NBA teams on his schedule. Suddenly, buckets of confetti and shorts-yanking won’t cut it.

Chicago Is a Global City

Chicago in going into a new era. As with most things, though, there was no clean break; it didn’t happen episodically. Since the mid-90s, Chicago has been churning towards membership in a network of “global cities.” I mean this in a very narrow sense. Chicago has been a no-quotes global city since the turn of the last century, when immigrants began pouring in in immense numbers and Chicago provided commodities to the entire planet and transportation to the nation. The “global network” I mean is the various outposts of transnational business. If that sounds nefarious, I don’t mean it to; the somewhat welcome breakdown in trade barriers and international monetary regimes allow financial firms to move fluidly over borders–which makes the borders less meaningful. Lopsided income distribution is putting more and more into the pockets of an ever-tightening group; whether that’s good or bad, it leaves it as a fact that there’s a smaller pool of people who can spend ever more money. For example on politics.

A search of news databases showed the the phrase “global city” did not appear in the same article as the words “Mayor Daley” until 2004. After 2004, it appeared over a dozen times, the first time the man himself using the phrase in 2007. By contrast, between 1989 (Daley’s election) and 2004 the “global city” and “Chicago” popped up together 83 times–nearly four times as often after 2004. What’s the point of all this? Only that the Mayor began focusing on transforming Chicago into whatever he imagined a “global city” to be fairly recently in his mayoralty.

Overlapping with this focus is the acceleration of privatization. The city has privatized 34 city services since 1990, with the vast majority, in terms of value and quantity, coming since 1995–also the year the schools came under Mayoral control. The Office of Management and Budget released a report finding that the City has saved up to $270mn+ between 1990 and 2002. Of those since 1995, by a significant margin the biggest instances came since 2004, including the Monroe Street garages, the Skyway, and of course the parking meters. The Skyway lease happened in 2004; the rights to it for 99 years were sold for just under $2bn to–wait, do you want to guess? A foreign firm. A Spanish consortium fund. Global city.

Juiced In

Read the rest of this entry »